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Return to Cnidus

Demeter Sanctuary

The Demeter Sanctuary is dramatically situated on the edge of the town under a towering cliff and set on a terrace retained by massive stone walls. It was from here that Newton recovered a number of very fine sculptures including the celebrated Demeter, a rare survival of an original fourth-century BC cult statue. The site was excavated by Newton and then again by Iris Love in the early 1970s. The British Museum has restricted its latest research to a survey, and the architectural remains have been redrawn by Ayse Dalyanci, architect to the British Museum's excavations. These drawings are now being prepared for publication.

Sanctuary of the Muses - a Fountain House and Nymphaeum

A fifth and final season of work in 2003 was completed in the Nymphaeum at Cnidus. This brings to a close the campaign to re-excavate the building first explored between 1857 and 1859 by Charles Newton. The aims of the excavation were threefold: to establish an accurate plan of the site; to understand the function of the building as a context for Newton's finds, now in the British Museum; and to achieve a date for its foundation and later history. The results have exceeded expectations and are summarised here in advance of a fuller publication.

Discovery and Rediscovery

The building identified by Charles Newton as a Sanctuary of the Muses was published with a plan by his assistant Robert Murdoch Smith in Newton's A History of Discoveries at Halicarnassus, Cnidus and Branchidae (2 volumes 1862, 427- 442). The identification of the cult depended upon an inscription that mentions a dedication to the Muses of a statue of Glykinna by members of her family. Other finds from the sanctuary include parts of a series of female statuettes in marble that Newton also identified as Muses. The Greek remains were extracted from the collapsed ruins of a later Byzantine reuse of the building. Sadly, after Newton 's time, the exposed Greek masonry of the interior walls was reduced to rubble for building a goat pen and herdsman's hut. This destruction probably happened in the early twentieth century, and with it the sanctuary became forgotten. It was never again mentioned in archaeological literature, and not until its rediscovery in 1997 was it possible accurately to locate it on the archaeological map of Cnidus. As almost nothing survived in its original position above ground, the decision was taken to re-excavate the sanctuary.

Plan and Elevation of the Sanctuary

The site occupies a terrace in the natural slope that descends to the sea from the lofty acropolis of Cnidus. The usual method of creating a building terrace for the ancient city was to construct a massive retaining wall, and then to level the slope behind this wall with imported dump material. In this case, however, the situation is strikingly different. Here the rock was cut away to form a level area, backed by a twenty foot artificial cliff. On this step were laid the foundations of the sanctuary walls to form a building measuring some sixty-five by forty-nine feet. The sloping side walls of the excavated platform are riddled with grottoes created by the action of spring water.

The foundations of walls have been exposed, along with what survives of ancient floor levels. The nineteenth-century published plan has broadly been confirmed with some important corrections and additions. From the archaeological evidence and from Newton 's description of columns, walls and terracotta roof tiles, it has been possible to attempt a reconstruction on paper of the principal elevation.

A rectangular courtyard was contained on two sides by a wall of dressed limestone. On the north the courtyard was overlooked by a colonnaded façade, while the west side of the courtyard was open to give access via a flight of steps. These steps were reached by a way that led off a street running along the foot of the southern boundary wall. A second set of steps joined the courtyard stairs at right angles and led up to an entrance vestibule. This short passage was paved in a white mosaic of limestone cubes, each measuring a centimetre square. Newton recorded that this mosaic incorporated lead strips in the design, which is confirmed in the sample that he deposited in the Museum.

A door led off from the entrance passage into the principal room. This was open to the courtyard through a colonnade of four Doric columns standing on a footing (stylobate) of pale grey limestone blocks laid end to end. The east and west ends of this elevation were closed by walls. Cuttings in the top bed of this stylobate show that screens were fitted between each wall and the nearest column. A third screen closed the gap between the second and third columns, but the two other intercolumniations were left open. A door pierced the east wall of this room, but not on the same axis as the west door. This eastern door gave access to one of the three caves exposed by the cutting of the natural rock. The large room gave access through doorways on its north side into two back rooms, divided by a partition wall. The northernmost foundation block of this partition wall was cut with settings for pipes to carry water away from each of the two back rooms and into the channel running along the rear wall of the sanctuary.


The new excavation has shown that the sanctuary is better identified as a Nymphaeum, sacred to the spirits credited with the supply of fresh water that was so obviously a prominent feature of the place. Marble female statuettes from the site, naked to the waist, were identified by Newton as Muses, but this nudity fits better with the Nymphs than with the Muses. A fragment of a marble relief found by Newton shows Nymphs dancing with goat-footed Pan around an acanthus column and provides a direct link to the cult of Nymphs. The worship of Muses in a sanctuary of the Nymphs should not surprise us. The two groups of deities are connected by their association with the Olympian god Apollo and in ancient literature they tend to occupy the same physical and mythological landscape.

The sacred function of the sanctuary went hand in hand with its secular role as a fountain house supplying fresh water to the residential district of the city that lay to the south and east. In design the building stood mid-way between two types: on the one hand there is the simple country shrine found all over the Greek world at natural grottoes in rocky places, such as the Corycean cave near Delphi; on the other there is the large, formal Nymphaeum of the Roman period, such as that funded by Herodes Atticus for the great athletic sanctuary at Olympia in western mainland Greece.


To judge from the style of masonry and the finds, the construction of the sanctuary probably occurred around 300 BC, not long after the foundation of the new city in the middle of the fourth century. The courtyard wall, with its rusticated facing, relieved by comb-picked margins, can be paralleled by identical walls in datable contexts all over the city. The blue limestone blocks standing back to back on plinths to form the lower part of the main walls of the building also represent a type of masonry that is known from other sites in the city. These include the Ionic gateway (propylon) at the western end of the main street of Cnidus, which is dated in a recent study to c. 300 BC.

The earliest sherds of pottery from the site are black-glazed Athenian wares, or local imitations, that may be dated to the late fourth and the early third century BC. These fragments of pottery vessels must represent the first dedications in the sanctuary. A chronological sequence of pottery from the new excavation is being assembled by Dr Alexandra Villing of the British Museum. It descends through typical Hellenisitic Cnidian and other local coarse and fine wares to the Roman period, when in the late first and second centuries AD the attractive red-slip Cnidian relief wares feature largely. The latest pottery, bar that of the modern era, relates to the Christian transformation of the sanctuary into a church.

Later history

The pottery provides some insight into the life-span of the sanctuary and accords with other archaeological evidence. In the Roman period the place continued to function. Water may not always have been in the same abundant supply as previously, and there were attempts to conserve it during dry spells. In the bedrock terrace of the courtyard two sets of terracotta pipes feed into a complex of cuttings that centre on a cistern with an estimated depth of up to thirty feet. The water that fell into this tank first passed through a shallower set of subsidiary cuttings that allowed sediment to fall and collect at the bottom of a sump, before the newly-filtered water was channelled into the main cistern. One set of pipes (identical with the other) lies over the filling of an earlier cutting. In this filling was found a sherd of Cnidian relief ware, firmly datable to the second century AD. The complex around the cistern, and probably the cistern itself, appear therefore to be Roman of the second century, or later.

The sanctuary may have been allowed to fall into ruin in the late pagan and early Christian period. In the last quarter of the fifth century AD, it was converted into a church. The street was no longer in use; the old entrance was shut down and the stairwell filled in with stones. Approaching at a higher level than before, an entrance was made in the colonnade wall of the sanctuary, the gaps between the columns having been filled in with rubble. Inside the church, the arrangement of rooms is largely lost. It seems clear, however, that a narthex of sorts was created at the west end out of the old entrance vestibule. The cross wall that closed the passage to the north was removed, and beyond it a new rubble wall was erected. A white plaster floor was laid over the bed of an old water pool and a series of reused blocks were put down on to it, one of them with a deep rectangular cutting for holding something in place. It is proposed that these blocks were the support of a baptismal font.

The latest pottery finds suggest that the sanctuary remained in use as a church for a couple of centuries before it was abandoned, perhaps as a result of Arab piratical raids. When the Cnidians reoccupied their city following this intrusion, the old Nymphaeum probably lay outside the perimeter of the new, smaller settlement. If not already wrecked, it seems then to have fallen into ruin, a thousand years after its foundation.

The Gymnasium

In summer 2004 excavation began at another of the places previously explored by Newton. His so-called gymnasium was subsequently lost and forgotten but has now been re-located on the ancient high street of Cnidus . The research objectives of the present excavation are to determine the layout of the building and to ascertain its date, function and history. Thus it is hoped to provide a better understanding of the archaeological context of objects in the collections of the British Museum.

The site comprises an enclosure measuring some 21 x 16 metres. Much survives of the lower courses of the perimeter walls, the northern of which is actually the massive wall of the street. As for the internal walls, the local farmers had destroyed these - as they did at the Nymphaeum - in order to make a goat pen. From Newton's plan and from our preliminary excavation, it is obvious that the building descended in three terraces towards the west and was entered from the street by a staircase that led down into the lowest terrace. The 2004 summer season of excavation concentrated on these steps and on clearing the highest terrace of the earth and stones that had accumulated since Newton's day. Part of a white pebble and tessara mosaic was uncovered, along with the setting for a pair of columns forming an entrance to the central one of three rooms.

Newton called the place a gymnasium, because of an inscription dated to the late first century BC or early first century AD that honoured G. Ioulios Artemidoros with the exceptional right to be buried in the gymnasium within the city. He was the son of Theopompos, friend of Julius Caesar. Artemidoros followed his father to Rome and dramatically entered written history when, as Plutarch famously records (Life of Caesar 65), he warned Caesar not to go into the Senate on the Ides of March, 44 BC.

Our site does not have the large open space that we might normally associate with a gymnasium, although it might have been attached to a gymnasium, which could lie in the large unexcavated area to the south. The inscription (BM 787) that mentions Artemidoros' tomb also mentions the fact that he was priest of Artemis Hiakynthotrophos (she who nourishes the nymph Hiakynthos). Can the building have been the cult place of this deity? Another inscription from the site records a dedication to the same goddess. It is hoped that the answers to this and other questions will emerge as the excavation proceeds.